Are you ready?
It is a common idea in the counselling and therapy world that clients need to be “ready” to change and it is one of the many such client-defining notions that Solution Focused Practice has overturned by asking “How do we know?”
Typically, clients deemed unready to change are either those who refuse to engage and those who do not change despite engaging. On another day such clients might be defined as “resistant” and though this is a more disparaging term it might be nearer the mark. If the invitation to engage or the nature of the offer are not sufficiently attractive to the client why wouldn’t they decline. As Steve de Shazer in his 1984 paper ‘The Death of Resistance’ points out this negative quality that we place within the client is merely a response to our behaviour, a message to “do something different”.
I was reminded by Evan’s recent challenge to the mantra “No gain without pain” of a lecture given many years ago where this idea (though “growth” was used instead of “pain”) was put forward so convincingly (and so caringly) it could be nothing but the truth. Only much later did it dawn on me that trees and flowers don’t groan when they grow and children growing without pain seem to develop very well indeed. We can’t avoid pain but the idea that it is necessary for positive change does not hold water.
This is not to say that therapy and counselling are necessarily painless. The fact is that many deliberately demand that the client feels pain and this is justified by an unsubstantiated belief that pain is a necessary part of a therapeutic process. Why would anyone accept an invitation to pain without giving it great thought. They might then accept the belief, take a deep breath and give it a go, or, just as likely say “No thank you! Not because I’m unready to change but because I don’t buy into your idea”
Steve de Shazer spoke of pain in his first visits to BRIEF with something like “Clients come to us in pain and our job is to get them out of it as fast as we damn well can!” And why would anyone want to hang on to their pain if they see a way to somewhere better. Rather than blame the client for failure to engage or failure to change we need to accept that it is our job to make our invitations attractive and it is our job to help people out of their pain. If we ‘blame’ ourselves for not getting the invitation or the therapy right then we are motivated to do better. If we blame the client we pass on the pain to them and limit our own growth.
Better to think all clients are ready to change and better still to not even need to think it.
12 March 2023